Written by Katherine Maningas
According to Article 26 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, “everyone has the right to education…[and it] shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedom.” We have almost reach global parity for primary education and are seeing a much higher enrollment of girls in secondary education than ever before. However, 31 million out of the 58 million children not enrolled in primary school are girls, nearly two-thirds of the world’s 781 million illiterate adults are women, and as of 2015, about 80 countries have actually stalled in progressing girls’ education. There are many barriers to girls’ education, but the conversation tends to be geared towards the cultural and political ones. But there is one barrier to girls’ education that most do not initially assume: climate change.
As of 2012, the “global annual average temperature (as measured over both land and oceans) has increased by more than 1.5°F (0.8°C) since 1880.” At first glance, this appears to be a negligible change, but the possible effects of those 1.5 degrees are alarming: higher chances of frequent and intense droughts, storms, extreme heat waves, and rising sea levels. Many cities around the world are susceptible to being submerged under water within the next century, such as Miami,FL, and entire countries such as Bahrain and Kuwait could be almost out of drinkable water by 2040 due to droughts and saltwater contaminating inland water sources.
Despite the fact that the entire planet is experiencing climate change, there are states that are at a much higher risk; namely, developing ones such as the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Haiti, Liberia, and South Sudan. Within these states, there are populations that are more exposed than others; specifically women and girls. Women tend to be charged with caring for the elderly and sick, to fetch water or food for their families, and to engage in other labor-intensive activities, which means that in disaster situations, women tend to be the last to leave and they are at a higher risk when they try to perform their daily tasks.
During instances of extreme climate such as those exacerbated by climate change, women tend to be forced to spend more time performing those tasks than spending time in school or doing paid work, thus minimizing their ability to gain the skills and funds they need to reach their full potentials. In some instances, girls could be forced to undergo early marriage because their dowries can help ease the burden of scarce household resources. If women in developing nations are already receiving less education than their male counterparts, then the changes in climate and the extreme conditions that could follow will only further this divide.
However, according to Christina Kwuak and Amanda Braga of the Brookings Institute, there are three ways to better ensure that women and girls get the education they need and the voice they deserve: promote girls’ reproductive rights in order to develop female capital and agency, invest in girls’ education to foster climate participation and leadership, and develop girls’ life skills for a green economy so that they can both survive and thrive in a changing world. These three platforms hope to establish lower fertility rates, female leadership and inclusion, and economic participation and empowerment, thus creating climate change mitigation.
Climate change is a complex and holistic issue that affects every aspect of life and every person. Therefore, investing in girls’ education is not only a moral obligation, but a necessity to encourage participation from all peoples to create a more equitable and sustainable future.
“Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” United Nations General Assembly, 10 December 1948,
"School enrollment, primary (gross), gender parity index (GPI)." The World Bank. Accessed September 26, 2017. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.ENR.PRIM.FM.ZS?year_high_desc=false.
"The World's Women 2015." UN Statistics Division. Accessed September 26, 2017. https://unstats.un.org/unsd/gender/chapter3/chapter3.html.
King, Elizabeth, and Rebecca Winthrop. "Today’s challenges for girls’ education." Brookings. October 07, 2016. Accessed September 26, 2017. https://www.brookings.edu/research/todays-challenges-for-girls-education/
National Climate Assessment, nca2014.globalchange.gov/highlights/report-findings/our-changing-climate.
Leader, Jessica. “14 U.S. Cities That Could Disappear Over The Next Century, Thanks To Global Warming.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 26 Aug. 2013, www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/26/global-warming-flooding_n_3799019.html.
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“Climate Change Vulnerability Index.” Relief Web, reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/verisk index.pdf . Originally derived from Verisk Maplecroft